Busking and Street Entertainment (how to…)

So you have some talent and would like to make a bit of money! How are you going to attract a crowd, what sort of show can you create and how are you going to end up with the money being put in your upturned hat at the end! Do not fear, for this article will help you to get started! It has been said that if you can perform on the street, then you have the necessary skills to perform anywhere!

Busking Laws

There is no universal code of conduct for Buskers, although it is common sense that you are likely to get into trouble if you impede pedestrian traffic flow, block or otherwise obstruct entrances or exits, or do things that endanger the public. It is common law that any disturbing or noisy behaviors may not be conducted after certain hours in the night. In the UK places requiring licenses to busk may also require you to audition!

Permits will only cover you for a certain place and they aren’t transferable between different towns, so a lot of buskers won’t bother with them unless they are always going to use the same pitch. Perhaps the best attitude is to simply smile and move on if the Police turn up! Sometimes easier to plead ignorance than ask permission (but that’s for you to decide!)

Watch Out: Buskers can find themselves targeted by thieves, especially if they work alone. It can’t be easy to keep an eye on all your props, and your earnings at the same time, and there is a process called “dipping” or “skimming” where the customer pretends to make a donation and takes money out instead! George Burns (comedian) described his days as a busker in the following way.

“Sometimes the Customers threw something in the hats. Sometimes they took something out of the hats. Sometimes they took the hats.”

Where to Busk (find your perfect “Pitch”)

Steve the Fire Juggler performing at Alva Glen

You could perform the exact same routine in 2 different places and make totally different amounts of money, so finding a good pitch (performance area) is essential if you want to make money. If you can find a place that has high visibility, possibly some seating nearby, low background noise, and plenty of pedestrians walking by then you are in with a good chance!

If you decide to busk outside someone’s shop and they get annoyed with you, then this isn’t a workable pitch and you should move on. There is no point making enemies and making the situation worse for the other buskers in the town by giving everyone a bad name!

Here is a Busking Wikipedia page of all the best known Busking Locations in the world. Be aware that as these locations are the most popular you will most likely need a Busking permit/license to perform there!

5 Steps for Creating a Show

The following notes are written from the perspective of putting on a Juggling show (as I am a professional Juggler) but they will still be of some use for other types of performance such as musicians, acrobats etc. Above all, the show should be car-crashable (people slowing down to see what is happening), fast paced with lots of things happening, and without any change of people getting bored (ditch the rubbish routines and any jokes or banter that isn’t working!)

Your first decision when busking is whether to just perform your skills over and over again in the hope that people might stop and watch you for a few seconds and drop some money into your hat or whether you are prepared to put in a bit of effort and work on a show that lasts at least 10mins (but even better if it is for 20+ minutes) of their precious time. If you can create such a show using the guidelines below, then a sizeable portion of the audience you have gathered will give some money for being entertained when you pass round the hat at the end (as long as you have the right patter to encourage them to do so!)

  1. Gathering an audience: I usually find that the best way to gather a crowd is to start laying out my props. This will get some peoples curiosity and alert them to the fact that something is happening! It may not bring them over, but they may just lurk in the background waiting till something happens before coming closer! If you can find enough curious people looking at what prop you are next bringing out your bag (and if your props are interesting eg binbags, parasols, rubber chickens, toothbrushes etc) to peak their curiosity, then you should be able to gather them when it is time to begin! If you want to mark an area that they must not step across, then use either a rope or a bottle of water (make a line out of water).
  2. First Routine: This has to be good! It is usually your 2nd best routine. of the whole show (as you build up to finish with your best). There are some people who have already been hanging around waiting for you to start the show and you don’t want to disappoint them! If you don’t have a lot of confidence at speaking, then perhaps a musical number to show off some of your skills is appropriate? If the audience can sing along and be encouraged to clap then this will alert others that something is happening and create a larger crowd!
  3. Middle of Show: Now that the audience have started to get to know you, this is the time when you can start letting them know that you will be passing round a hat at the end to collect some money. This is also the time that you might want to make some stars out of audience members by including them in some of your routines. Make the audience feel like part of the show as this will keep them interested.
  4. Final Routine: Do something impossible or seemingly impossible. Say it’s impossible. Make it look impossible. Build up to doing the final trick successfully by using as much Comedy and other skills as necessary, but don’t let it drag out too long or else you will lose some of your audience! This is another good opportunity to use volunteers.You can make the trick look harder by deliberately dropping a few times to build up the tension (as long as you also have some fantastic drop lines to cover yourself and keep the audience entertained)!
  5. Collecting Money: The hardest part of the show! You need to train the audience to not just disappear as soon as you have taken your bow. If you have made some good friends in the audience through your banter and picking volunteers, then they will most likely give you some money. You will need to develop some fantastic “hat lines” to help encourage the audience to willing part with their hard earned cash!


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Other Issues

Volunteer / Audience Participation: Audience participation is usually the most memorable and funny part of street shows! If done properly, the volunteer should always be made to look like a hero and be able to leave the stage with a fantastic round of applause and cheering. If you can make the audience laugh and clap loudly, then this will attract more people to join them! You might even find that you have made some new friends who will be the first in line when you pass the hat round at the end!

Audience Control: If you have gathered a huge amount of people to watch your show, then you will occasionally need to stop your performing and expertly reign them in to allow for other pedestrians to go about their daily business. If appropriate, you may be able to get some kids who can’t see at the back to make up a new front row sitting down. Using a bottle of water, you can draw out a line, and asking the audience to move right up to the line in one swoop is much better than picking on individuals. This becomes easier with practice, and if you can find entertaining ways of herding the crowds, then it can become an enjoyable part of the show and also help the audience to feel like an audience! The first row should act like a fence which should stop other people from walking onto your stage.

Stage: Leaving the stage area creates a mystery (but come back quickly and have a reason for leaving that is explained as soon as you return!) Bringing a volunteer on at any point in the show can renew the audiences concentration and energy. Jumping up high or doing some high tricks, as well as making full use of however large a stage are you have helps change peoples background and perspective.

10 Essential Hat Lines and Ideas

What you need to consider when trying to squeeze money from your lovely audience at the end of your awesome show! 10 tips and ideas along with some well-used lines that you can adapt.

  1. Make the audience laugh to break the tension – the hat lines (comedy patter) and continued audience banter while you are collecting money can be just as entertaining as the show! You will certainly need to keep the audience entertained if there is a huge queue of them trying to give you money and having to wait to get near to the hat! “If you are giving your bank card, please drop in a note with your PIN number also”
  2. Get a good feeling flowing through the crowd – although you are asking the crowd for money, it shouldn’t feel like they are being forced to do so. “If you enjoyed the show, then please kindly donate some money, if you didn’t, then please write your complaint on the back of a £20 note”
  3. Let the Audience know that you are only human and that this is your living. “Help keep starving jugglers where they belong – on the streets”
  4. Mention the hat throughout the show. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the audience at the end that they are being asked to give money. It also gives you the chance to get them used to the idea! “I know that I don’t come into your work at the end of your day and applaud all your hard efforts and give you money, but this is how I make a living, so please give generously.”
  5. Build a picture in the audiences head of other forms of entertainment (Cinema, TV, Magazine etc) they happily pay for regularly. “Is this routine worth a cup of tea? Then we have an agreement”
  6. Kids enjoy giving money (especially their parents hard earned cash), parents enjoy seeing kids happy, therefore make kids feel important!
  7. Thank the people individually for giving you money. Expect only half (or even less) of the audience to give money. Never have the hat on the ground, where it can be stolen (bring it out at the end)
  8. Don’t refer to yourself as a busker, but instead as a “Street Entertainer”. It sounds less like you are begging for money this way, and also makes you sound much more professional.
  9. Give your volunteer a £1 coin. Say to the audience that the person has entertained me a lot, and I want to show my appreciation. I hope that the audience will do the same when I finish the show!
  10. Finally, at the end of the show, tell people that if they can’t give money, then come up and say how much they enjoyed the show, and if not, just to come up and pretend they enjoyed the show. Direct people to the hat. You shouldn’t be going in any direction except towards me. The exit is here. The more people you get queuing up to give you money (or say thanks) the more other people will think of doing the same!

Reader Contributions

Hat Line sent in from Jonathan Kutcher – “it would be nice if you could give us five dollars, then we could go to college, but if you give us twenty, we won’t have to”.

If you have any comments, questions, enquiries or juggling trick suggestions/descriptions, please fill in the form at the foot of this page or visit the CONTACT STEVE page for many more ways to get in touch (see top menu for the link)! Please note that I am not responsible for any injuries or damage caused by following these trick descriptions. Be safe!

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